top of page

THE BIGGEST DISASTERS AT SEA

The story of the Titan submersible vessel: At the time of this writing, Titan with its five passengers has not been recovered and with dwindling oxygen supplies, the situation is very troubling. Even if it’s able to resurface, the vessel can’t be opened from the inside. Gaining access to the passengers may take precious time.



Polar Prince towing OceanGate Expeditions submersible vessels on a barge as it leaves for the Titanic wreck site to tour below the ocean (Shutterstock)
Polar Prince towing OceanGate Expeditions submersible vessels on a barge as it leaves for the Titanic wreck site to tour below the ocean (Shutterstock)


Think about this: the Titanic wreck that the Titan was transporting passengers to is about 13,000 feet (3962 meters), deeper than Mt Fuji is tall. It is completely dark, and only the weirdest protozoa can survive down there. Could anything be more terrifying? This is not a place for human existence. Just leave the Titanic alone. It’s gone. It’s all over. And now, humans being what they are, multiple tourist visitors have brought trash and garbage with them to the area, prompting the question whether the Titanic must, in the ironies of ironies, be protected until the disintegrating hull is finally consumed.


My spirit of adventure for ocean vessels is, I’d rather not, thank you. Still, these events got me thinking about the worst maritime disasters in history.


1. Malaysia Airlines Flight MH 370

Funnily enough, the ocean disaster that intrigues me most didn’t involve a maritime vessel. Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 was an international passenger flight operated that disappeared on 8 March 2014 while flying from Kuala Lumpur International Airport on the way to Beijing Capital International Airport. The crew of the Boeing 777-200ER last communicated with air traffic control (ATC) about 38 minutes after takeoff when the flight was over the South China Sea. The aircraft was lost from ATC's radar minutes later, but was tracked by the Malaysian military's primary radar system. Then the flight deviated westward for another hour, crossing the Malay Peninsula. And then it disappeared.



Unidentified adult man writes messages and prayers for Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200ER MH370
Unidentified adult man writes messages and prayers for Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200ER MH370 (Shutterstock)

What followed was one of the largest searches for an aircraft ever, including the use of other aircraft, ships, satellite data, underwater search equipment, weather data, experts and analysts, and just amateur detectives and conspiracy theories. One of the most intriguing was that well-respected veteran Captain Zaharia Ahmad Shah committed murder-suicide by deliberately crashing the aircraft into the vastness of the oceans. Although various suspicious debris washed up onshore in various places, the fuselage was never found and the search was officially called off, leaving shattered, grief-torn families in lifelong anguish.


2. The Titanic (1912) is undoubtedly the most famous (but not deadliest) peacetime ocean disaster that has captivated human curiosity and imagination, having spurred books and movies, particularly the eponymous, film about the tragedy. The Titanic was considered the largest and most luxurious ship of its time, but it was also a demonstration of human hubris. There is no such entity as an “unsinkable ship. If it floats, it can also sink. On its maiden voyage from Southampton, England to New York, USA, it struck an iceberg in the North Atlantic Ocean and sank. Over 1,500 of the 2,224 passengers and crew on board perished.


Sinking of the Titanic: Dramatic Illustration by German artist Willy Stower (1864-1931)
Sinking of the Titanic: Dramatic Illustration by German artist Willy Stower (1864-1931)


3. The Lusitania (1915): The British ocean liner RMS Lusitania was torpedoed by a German U-boat during World War I while travelling from New York to Liverpool. Nearly 1,200 of the 1,962 people on board were killed. The attack was a significant factor influencing the United States' decision to enter the war.



S.S. Lusitania ship in New York, around 1915 (Shutterstock)
S.S. Lusitania in New York, around 1915 (Shutterstock)


4. The Wilheim Gustloff, January 30, 1945, a Soviet submarine torpedoed the ship, which was crowded with German civilian refugees and military, in the Baltic Sea. An estimated 9400 people lost their lives, more than five times than number who died on the Titanic.



flipfloprebel Der Untergang der "Wilhelm Gustloff" Januar 1945
The torpedoed, sinking Wilhelm Gustloff, January 1945 (Rendition by Flipfloprebel )

5. MV Doña Paz (1987): The MV Doña Paz, a Philippine-registered passenger ferry, collided with the oil tanker MT Vector in the Tablas Strait, Philippines. The resulting fire and sinking caused an estimated 4,386 deaths, the greatest peacetime loss of life at sea. It was an especially horrific and chaotic event, particularly as the life vests were locked away. The sea was on fire, and many passengers were burned to death.

The MV Doña Paz Inferno
The MV Doña Paz Inferno (from Owlcation)

6. The Swedish Vasa Vessel

Famous ancient reconstructed Vasa vessel in Stockholm, Sweden (Shutterstock)
Famous ancient reconstructed, fateful Vasa vessel in Stockholm, Sweden (Shutterstock)

This is the very best story: Vasa or Wasa was a Swedish warship built between 1626 and 1628. The ship sank after sailing roughly 1,300 m into her maiden voyage on 10 August 1628. She fell into obscurity after most of her valuable bronze cannons were salvaged in the 17th century, until she was located again in the late 1950s in a busy shipping area in Stockholm harbor. The Swedes comically love showing off the miserably failed ship and seem to find it more amusing than embarrassing as such.



74 views0 comments
bottom of page